Aural Hypnox – Underworld Transmissions CD Aural Hypnox 2019
This CD represents the closing of the Underworld Transmissions series as it collates together the three earlier cassettes issued in 2014 and 2015. Of those earlier releases each contained two tracks each, thus totalling six tracks and nearly 60 minutes of music on this collated album. To quote from the cover regarding the concept and series, it states: “Underworld Transmissions was Aural Hypnox label series, filmed and captured on tape in the private séances held in our subterranean lodge located in Oulu, Northern Ostrobothnia. The concept was to invite artists from the Helixes collective, in different combinations, to join a séance and to establish through sound and movement an elemental communication. In greater sense, apart from personal goals, these séances aimed to bring forth the seasonal currents of the lodge; the undertone of the Aural Hypnox label and the artists involved. Each séance was guided by a unique automatic-portal-portrait reflecting the planetary and stellar distances seen at that particular time in the lodge altar mirror-receiver. All audio was captured live on tape by using binaural recording technique. Films were captured during séances and also in the preceding and subsequent sessions that took place in Other Rooms and in the surrounding wilderness. The candles have been extinguished; transmissions completed”.
Due to the apparent improvisational nature, the musical output of the Underworld Transmissions series sits more at the abstract end of label’s discography, and in sonic terms this is possibly most comparable to the minimalist style of Aural Holograms (a lone album was released by Aural Hypnox back in 2007). Séance I/2013 (November 2013) and is a composition of deep subterranean atmospheres, slow sustained drones generated by sparse bowed and blown instruments. Additionally some distant chants appear to mark the path, and assist in evoking a minimalist meditative aura. Séance I/2014 (January 2014) follows, and although still minimalist in style is slightly more animated, with a mid-pointed tonal range and wavering notes looping in a non-melodious patterns. Moving onto Séance II/2014 (March 2014) the track takes a short moment to get going but quickly elevates into a heavily cinematic, ritual ambient soundscape. Although drones form the compositional backbone, tense and urgent abstract sounds sweep and pan through the speakers, coupled with sustained atonal horn and string notes which rise to elevated crescendos of almost modern classical proportions (Penderecki certainly comes to mind in the later more animated sections of the piece). Séance III/2014 (April, 2014) then evokes a dank catacomb atmosphere with slow pounding ritualised thump, buried chants and abstract scraping/ creaking textural sounds, which at its sonic peak is not too far from a death industrial style. Great in other words. Moving towards the back of the collection, Séance IV / 2014 (July 2014) is a hazy atonal soundscape of shifting analogue drones and creaking sonorities which cyclically build to forceful sonic impact. Séance I / 2015 (January 2015) concludes the set which follows similar sonic paths, although is embedded with a more mysterious tone within its droning dark ambient frame.
Being housed in an oversized, screen printed cardboard cover, with a 16-page xeroxed booklet it is a fitting closure to the concept and séance cycle. Likewise with each of the original tapes being limited to mere 50 copies, this CD reissue a slightly larger run at 150, but clearly it won’t be available for long given how well the physical editions of the Aural Hypnox label engages with the fetishist collectors mindset.
AMEK are a Bulgarian underground experimental label and while I have not followed all of their output, from what I have heard they are releasing a decent amount of atypical post-industrial music. In this context I have not come across the Ergomope project before, but that is also perhaps explained by the fact that Етиологии appears to be their only release to date.
Opening with short experimental and evocative piano motif which has been layered and treated in studio, it immediately catches attention in the most positive of ways, before shifting off into a length 15-minute track framed around grey hued sonic treatments of obviously urban based field records. But not to be based on raw field recordings alone, those elements are coupled with sonically melodious and shimmering drones which blend and intertwine and carries the material forward at a generally unhurried pace. Likewise, though a number of tracks the minimalist field recordings elements have been looped for vaguely rhythmic effect, while on occasion the drones and field recordings elevate in pressure and force towards an heavier post-industrial frame of reference, where the sound builds to a peak before recedes again. In other sections there appears to be what sounds like abstracted playing of a treated piano, and sections of shrill orchestral strings and percussion which have been mutated in a studio environment. Of individual note, lengthy track Whiteout functions as a sort of album centrepiece given its more prominent musicality, including layered piano playing, plucked string instruments, and elevating melodious drones late in the track.
Clearly there is lot to digest across the two cassettes, amounting to a run time of around 80 minutes. But with emotive experimental ambiental music such as this, appreciation is rewarded from an unhurried listening, allowing the shifting and morphing sonics to unfurl at their own pace. For the sake of comparison, the likes of the material released on Touch, and specifically the likes of Fennesz and BJ Nilsen comes strongly to mind, which is testament to the quality of this material, despite its relative obscurity. In then noting that the Black Sea is referenced in the promo text, and is a title of a Fennesz album, perhaps my comparative impressions are more than mere coincidence? Either way this has been both an enjoyable and rewarding listen.
Trepaneringsritualen – ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave LP Cold Spring 2019
After a run of strong albums framed around vocal driven, rhythmic death industrial compositions, Trepaneringsritualen (TxRxP) has chosen to take an abrupt left-hand turn (onto the left hand path?) to deliver an extremely minimalist ritual dark ambient album, thus harks back to an earlier phase of the project. In fact this new instrumental album is so minimal and ritualized in style, it would not at all be out of place on the Aural Hypnox label.
Compositionally this album consists of two lengthy nineteen-minute tracks, each titled with the algiz rune, but noting for the second track the algiz rune has been inverted. To glean meaning from this, in its upturned position, the algiz rune can be interpreted as a human with upraised arms to received the protection, guidance and wisdom from the Universe. But in its inverted position can be interpreted as meaning hidden dangers for the self and the need to reflect and look within as part of the process of gaining strength and connecting with higher self. Yet even with the cover image of the algiz rune formed by tree branches, based on the spartan artwork and text in Swedish, how the algiz runes should be interpreted in context of this album remains unclear.
Sonically speaking the atmosphere is one of bass driven tonal depth and catacombic echo, where blackened washes of archaic drones blend with reverb drenched ritual percussive sounds, including: deep catatonic drum hits; sparse gongs; wailing horns; ritual chimes; singing bowls, low atonal piano notes etc. Yet for all of its apparent minimalism, this album is one that immediately draws you into its sinister clutches and does not loosen its grip for the entire album duration, particularly given the ample tensile sonic elements which keep interest and engagement throughout. Although cut into two separate tracks, the sound effectively plays out at an album length track as the sound between the two pieces bridges the same pace and articulates visions in the mind’s eye of a ritual ceremony being conducted in the falling twilight on the damp forest floor, while tree limbs creak and sway in response to the winds gusting through treetops far above. Also of note is the deep shuddering thud featuring at the start and end of the album album, as if sonically representing the opening and subsequent closing of a ritual cycle.
Prior to the release of this album, perhaps I had assumed that TxRxP would continue to forge ahead with a song-based approach. That impression has been proven to be completed incorrect, but at the same time, ᛉᛦ – Algir; Eller Algir I Merkstave is an exceptional example of minimalist and strongly meditative ritual dark ambient music, and completely takes me back to the earliest days of when I started listening to this type of music. Recommended.
Murderous Vision – Abscission MC Chthonic Streams 2019
Consistent longevity in the underground is no easy feat, yet 2019 is revealed as the 25th anniversary of Stephen Petrus’ solo project Murderous Vision. Having always been broadly defined by a murky death industrial style characteristic of the now classic 1990’s era, recent output has displayed a greater degree of experimentation. Yet of the four tracks which feature on Abscission, it harks back to the early era of the project.
Tape opener Breaking the Bonds of Light announces intent with horror synths, militant percussion and murky drones which border on choral chants, but things take a noted step up with the following track Echoed Voice. The first a section of darkly brooking cinematic ambience and spoken vocals, prior to the second half featuring chanted male vocals against rolling, echo processed percussion and rising tide of grim distortion. Autumn Black begs a partial comparison to the brooding, cinematically tinged and percussive death industrial of Megaptera. With an excellent display of restraint, the driving percussion only arrived in the later half of track to ratchet up the tensile mood. For the final of the four compositions, Open The Night Sky round out the tape as the heaviest and most direct track, featuring slow pummeling beat, grinding looped bass distortion and aggressive heavily processed vocal barrage.
At around 27 minutes of music, this is a short and to the point released, but also packs a major impact in that time, where each of the four track deliver a distinct and individual sound within a broader death industrial framework. Abscission is great tape and fitting celebration of a quarter century of activity. But with an extremely limited physical edition, this would also be a great candidate for a vinyl reissue.
Mists of Darkness – The Lightless Lands MC Trapdoor Tapes 2019
Well this is certainly a blast from the past. Originally self-released in 1995, Mists of Darkness were a one-man ‘dungeon synth’ project from Australia, and contextually speaking, The Lightless Lands was produced in an era well before ‘dungeon synth’ even existed as a descriptive genre tag. Yet at the time of its original release, material of this type was very much an offshoot of the underground black metal scene and the growing crossover into underground post-industrial music (via artists and labels such as Mortiis and Cold Meat Industry).
Noting that this tape can today be described as ‘dungeon synth’, some comments need to be made regarding the current micro-trend of this style. With the endless raft of new acts seemingly cropping up, of all the new material I have heard, the greater majority sounds over produced with a ‘jolly’ or ‘twee’ slant (i.e. in a ridiculous medieval way), where the end result sounds akin to poor man’s role-playing game/ computer game music. Equally the production of much of the current era ‘dungeon synth’ is often too clean and lacks a lofi charm that a murky production can bring. In short there seems to be a real lack of understanding of the obscure and atmospheric elements which should ideally underpin the sound. But enough of that rant. Obviously Mists of Darkness are one of the few projects of ‘dungeon synth’ that I can still appreciate.
The Lightless Lands features four tracks (or ‘acts’) with a run time around 33 minutes. The track titles themselves allude to creation and description of a world unique to Mists of Darkness (i.e.: Act 1 Journey To The Lightless Lands & Act 3 The First Vision Of The Lightless Lands), which places the concept in a dark fantasy type realm (also of note, the cover images gives a nod to Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 animated film version of The Lord of the Rings). From a listeners’ perspective, the first thing of note is the sound, which is crude and lofi to the point of making early Era 1 Mortiis recordings look decidedly high fidelity. Yet it is the crude sound which actually embellishes its dark and obscure atmosphere. Compositionally the tracks are generally composed with low bit-rate computer generated droning loops, which are further layered with singular toned melodies, programmed ritual percussive patterns and other sporadic computer-based sounds which emulate lightning, thunder, windstorms, waves lapping at shore and shrieks of unidentified beasts. The overall crude sound clearly shows the sonic limitations of the equipment this was composed and recorded on, but again the muffled sound of the recording on tape format functions to provide a grey hued atmosphere which adds rather than detracts. Thus, despite its clear limitations, there is still an ingrained level of darkly atmospheric charm.
If ‘crude’, ‘obscure’ and ‘lofi’ are descriptors for dungeon synth which spark interest, further investigation of The Lightless Lands is pretty much mandated. Although personally having owned the original tape since its original release way back in 1995, it is great to see Trapdoor Tapes have reissued this to give this underground obscurity greater prominence.
Schloss Tegal – Psychometry DLP La Esencia Records 2019
Thirteen long years have transpired since the last Schloss Tegal album, so you could have been forgiven for thinking a new album was an impossibility – yet here it is. Granted there was a two track 7” ep Procession Of The Dead (Undead) released in 2017, but that release did not include new music, rather featured a remix of an old track and another live recording from 2008.
Based on first impressions of Psychometry,the stunning sleeve design of the gatefold vinyl with spot varnished geometric patterns needs to be acknowledged. In my estimation this visual presentation does absolute justice the album’s conceptual themes, which themselves hark back to 1999 Black Static Transmission. Although the artwork of that earlier album let it down somewhat in term of feeling slightly amateurish in early computer-based design. Sonically speaking, Psychometry also feels to have clear linage to Black Static Transmission rather than the direct sound employed on 2006’s album The Myth Of Meat (which is explained by its source material having been drawn from sounds recorded in a working abattoir). But apart from focusing on sonic differences, Psychometry still embodies a particular sound established and easily recognized as that of Schloss Tegal. This means it is too sonically forceful to be described as dark ambient, but equally is not abrasive enough to become noise/industrial.
From the outset the album delivers grim maelstrom drones blend with dour muted melodies, while other erupting fissure of sounds seem to articulate the tearing at the hidden fabric of one sub-conscious (refer to Pyschpompus and Incorporeal Being as prime examples). The Invalid Earth is an early standout with its throbbing ritual pulse, swirling drones and disembodied radio chatter. Krononaut (Time Zero) articulates further churning emanations from the void, complete with prominent EVP voices, and based on their scratchy semi-unintelligible it gives off an unnerving and eerie effect (EVP recordings appear on a number of tracks throughout). Black Vessel then delivers a foreboding tumult of layered electronics and is one of the more direct and heavy tracks on display. Moving towards the end of the album Body Farm delivers a tensile, and shrilly cinematic composition, but which is far too short in run time. As for the concluding track We All Become Gods blends deep cinematic tinged textures with widescreen drones and (again) with an unnerving disembodied voice.
Over their discography Schloss Tegal have excelled at sonically articulating a psychic space which blends the real and perceivable with an ‘unknowable otherness’ of inter-dimensional states. Without question Psychometry is another excellent example of this approach. In a general sense this feel of being a collection of individual and separate tracks rather than the sprawling and interlinking movements on Black Static Transmission. But this is only a compositional observation and not in any way a criticism. Not to call Psychometry a ‘return to form’, as that would allude to some sort of prior drop in quality of output, rather Psychometry is a welcomed and long-awaited continuation of unique sound and approach that Schloss Tegal have always displayed. Recommended and absolutely worthy of investment in its stunning physical edition.
Blitzkrieg Baby – Homo Sapiens Parasitus LP Neuropa Records 2019
Strictly speaking Kim Sølve’s Blitzkrieg Baby project is quite incongruent to the typical coverage of Noise Receptor Journal. Yet there is something quite special in the cynical black humor and heavily sarcastic lyrics wrapped up in a diverse song-based approach, spanning elements of cinematic/orchestral dark ambient, martial industrial, and more streamlined song-based industrial. In fact, the Looney Tunes inspired cover artwork – which strongly speaks to my own childhood – is an excellent visual presentation of this thematic and stylistic approach (the artwork is by Trine + Kim Design Studios, which is the graphic design firm Kim runs with his partner and showcases their talents as graphic designers). Likewise, the self-described tag of ‘Norwegian Dystopian Electronic Music’ further emphasizes the approach.
Album opener Hip Hip Hooray displays the cynical and darkly playful nature of the album, with a track of mid-paced bass guitar-driven swagger, while the spoken vocals break out into a chorus chant of the track’s title. After a short instrumental interlude with an industrial/orchestral dark ambient track (Apocalypse To Go), comes Boys Will be Boys, which is a perfect example fusing martial beats, orchestral synths, and dark pop-focused chorus line hooks, with the end result being swaggering rather than martially stilted. The pairing of tracks like The March of Human Progress I & II bring a more serious tone, which is mostly due to the instrumental format, thereby the cynical element brought about by the vocals is absent. On the musical front it strongly reminds me of the martial ambient industrial sound of Toroidh, given the slow dark ambient throb, sub-orchestral elements, and marching music samples. Perhaps for my own listening preferences Praise The Pig comes off as the only misstep due to the prominent chugging guitar riff (but that says more about my personal aversion to guitar-based industrial). Yet despite this criticism, the tolling church bells and chanted male vocals which appear late in the track effectively win me over. Moving towards the album’s end, the dour yet playful nature of the album is again in full flight on Pre-Cum Of The Apocalypse, with a slow brooding dark ambient/martial industrial track, where the lone piano line rings out with reverb, while the vocals are sung choir style which belies their cynical slant. The album closer, Homo Sapiens Parasitus & the Countdown to the Apocalypse is an industrial pop stormer of a composition, driving ever forwards with stoic rolling beats and vocals ranging from whispered to full rousing male choirs.
Despite its vein of cynical black humor on the thematic and lyrical front, the music itself is treated with utmost seriousness, and done exceedingly well, avoiding any notion of being ‘cheesy’ in the end result. This is no mean feat, given the use of any level of ‘humor’ in post-industrial music usually predicts my total uninterest. Wildly divergent – yet recommended at the same time.